"The Scourges of Gods Fury" - So named by Bishop Isidore of Seville in the 7th century, the Huns gained a fearsome reputation as merciless invaders that survives in popular culture to this day. They are described as "Repulsively ugly, their hideous faces scarred by gashes made in their youth to destroy the roots of the beard, the Huns spread terror where-ever they went". This sort of thing is typical of modern opinion. After all they're often credited with the fall of the Roman Empire. Were they such fierce destroyers of civilisation? The fact is, and this is underlined by the author, the Huns left no written record about themselves. All we know is what has been passed down from Greek and Latin sources. Even then, so much has been lost. Entire histories that dealt with the Huns have disappeared forever.
We're fortunate that this title is a little more sympathetic to the Huns, especially now that after fifteen hundred years the terror they inspired has long since gone. It was said that "In good times they are accustomed to following their cattle, enjoying field sports, and getting drunk. In bad times everyone prepares for war to make raids". For the Hun, life was a curious balance of trading, herding, and raiding. They pursued whichever course was more profitable to them, and given the riches to be had from the Roman Empire, its understandable that raiding became their primary activity for two centuries.
The environment in which these men hacked out a living is daunting. Their way of life demanded they range over considerable territory and the ancient description of the 'horde' is an exaggeration. Survival must have taken up much of their attentions so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the most rapacious Huns were those that had ridden into the lush and fertile lands of Europe. Its noticeable that the Huns soon adopted a settled way of life in lands of plenty. What this book doesn't stress highly enough is the opportunism of the Huns, a trait developed from having to survive in their difficult homeland, and one that saw Huns fighting on the side of the Romans as mercenaries. Arguably, the entire reason for their westward raids was the worsening conditions on the dry steppes. Nonetheless, the influence of Attila's reign isn't underestimated and is a point well made. Under his rule the Huns created an empire of considerable size, complete with a capital city.
There is considerable detail given to the equipment used by Huns. For instance, the composite bow gets its own chapter; such was the skill and importance of this weapon in their hands. Details of its construction and use rely on sources ancient and modern, with interesting comparisons in the claims made. There is a background to the introduction of the stirrup too, long associated with the Huns, and the information presented is not going to please those with the conventional belief that they were used by the Huns who rode into Europe. Nonetheless, for correct understanding of the stirrup and its origins, this detail is heartily recommended.
Like so many Osprey titles, this is an excellent source book, and for those who want a better insight to those men who came over the horizon one day and put fear into the heart of the Roman Empire, you could do much worse than to start here.
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